An ordinary woman's fascination with an extraordinary sport ... and the extraordinary people who take part

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Running Beyond Limits

Probably about a year ago, I heard about a Scottish doctor who was planning to run from John O Groats to the Sahara to raise funds for a charity (Yamaa Trust).  Now there's long distance running and then there's two thousand, six hundred and fifty miles of running....

As part of his route across Scotland, there was to be a charity ultra along 28 miles of the West Highland Way.  When a request came out for anyone who was willing to help on the day, I jumped at the chance and, despite my openly declared lack of experience in anything to do with running or races, the organisers seemed happy to have me.

So, on a cold dark November morning, I drove west across Scotland to Kinlochleven to see my first ultra.  There was snow up on the Devils Staircase that hadn't been there a few weeks ago and a bunch of runners in kilts, fancy dress and big smiles.  Everyone seemed to know one another (except me who knew nobody) and it felt like a party.

After coffee and cake at Altnafeadh, I ended up at Victoria Bridge with some packs of water, a semi-accurate list of runners and ..... my own company.  In fits and starts, the runners came past: the first ones bounding past at speed without stopping, the later ones stopping for water and a chat and every one of them looking as though they were having the time of their lives.  Even the dark haired girl being chivvied by her friend (a small blonde in the shortest kilt and the widest smile) that she absolutely could finish the remaining ten miles...

And as I watched  them bound past, I had my "bugger this, I'm sick of saying I can't" moment, which finds me buying a pair of running shoes a week later.

Five months later, The Adventure Show documentary is broadcast which reminds me that, as well as the fundraising, Andrew Murray's run was intended to promote the benefits of exercise.  Finally I get in touch with him to thank him for what S2S did to change my life.  His reply is personal and immensely inspiring.

Since completing the run, he's got married, undertaken a lot of public speaking and engaged with politicians to help develop strategies to improve the health of the country through exercise.  Oh and he wrote a book as well.

The book was finally published today, with a launch event at Snowlines Footworks in Edinburgh.  (If you want to buy a copy, try here.  Or here).  Amongst other things, there was a 5k fun run advertised for 10am.  I ummed and aahed for a long time - whilst I wanted to do it, I have no illusions about the competitive nature of most runners and doubted very much it would be at any speed I'm capable of considering as fun - finally making my mind up only the day before.

Despite the prevailing Edinburgh weather of cold and wet, the morning became hot and dry.  I knew I was going to suffer when Ian B arrived dripping with sweat having run the mile or so from home.  It was also too fast!  If I'm ever going to start running regularly with other people I need to learn to set my own pace and not try to keep up with others.  I know I can run 5k almost every time - but only if I start at my own slow pace and stick to it...

Andrew did, very charmingly, drop back to talk with me but even at that speed, I can't run and talk.  I found myself instead jogging with a lovely older woman with a black dog. who turned out to be Andrew's mother.  We made a strategic decision to cut out the second lap and head for the finish line to be cheerleaders instead.

So I ran with the man who ran 2650 miles last winter, even if it was only 100 yards or so. 

Afterwards there is coffee and cake back at the shop and more chatting with the other runners and friends who've come along.  Among them is Mike Adams who I've not seen since he was sweeper at S2S but has just put on an incredibly successful race of his own - the Glenmore 24 - with the Glen Ogle 33 to come in November.

The Yamaa Trust are repeating the S2S Ultra again this year, together with the 10k fun run from Bridge of Orchy to Tyndrum (details under upcoming events).  Having told someone only two weeks ago that I was nowhere near ready for a 10k, the idea of this is becoming disturbingly attractive.  Mike doesn't help by telling me how much fun it would be, and that it's a flat route.

My first 10k ... on the West Highland Way ... in December?  Madness or magical?

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